‘Here and Now’ Has Plenty of Opportunities to Be Great, But Rather Swing the Hammer

It always cracks me up now when I see Alan Ball’s name mentioned and it’s immediately followed by crediting him as the producer of True Blood. While factually correct, Alan Ball made his bones with two much more critically-acclaimed features: Six Feet Under, one of the golden age HBO shows, and of course, American Beauty. The latter won him an Oscar for its screenplay. It’s important to remember this when judging Here and Now. The supernatural that exists to some degree in all his features is present, but this one lacks the fun of a True Blood. And I know the comparison isn’t apples to apples of course, as True Blood began as campy and got exponentially campier. But it at least it seemed like there a was a good time to be had. Here and Now is pretty self-serious and self-affirming (to someone at least) as it attempts to portray the most real universe that Ball has created thus far.

Here and Now is a new HBO series that focuses on a couple of different families. The primary stories mostly run through a multi-racial family through means of adoption. The parents (played by Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter) have four children in total. The parents being white of course have three adopted children from Somalia, Vietnam and Colombia. Their lone biological child is the youngest. They pride themselves on being liberal and worldly, but the chips of that facade fall more and more with each episode. It’s not that they are secretly racist, but they think they know more and empathize with more than they actually do. While there are plenty of interesting stories specific to each family member, the torque of the story centers around the Colombian adoptee Ramon and his shattering psychosis. As Ramon begins to hallucinate, very specifically by the way, it galvanizes the family into figuring out how to deal with him as a person (which seems it was always a challenge) and his possibly debilitating mental illness. That may or may not be a touch of the supernatural.

There is a lot going on with the family, some of it redeeming, some of it supremely heavy handed. The differently raced siblings often jab at each other with interracial banter and making humorous stabs at the others assigned stereotypes. The problem is that they are always in the view of some white companion, making this type of banter literally for the white gaze.

While the sibling interactions and predispositions are a bit on the nose, the most nuanced and revelatory come from the parents, separately and for different reasons. Both Robbins and Hunt are on top of their game here. Robbins is the aging professor that wrote a brilliant book and never followed up on it, and Hunt, his wife, is matriarch and consultant on all things psychology, as her previous profession initiates her for. While Robbins’ Greg is clearly at a midlife crisis and finds himself contradicting much of what his brilliant book proclaimed twenty years previously, Hunt’s Audrey is still searching for where she can make the most impact while blind to the fact she isn’t making as much impact as she thinks she should be. Somewhere in there, is their intersection which fluctuates based upon their individual loyalties and personal turmoil in the moment. It is the most genuine relationship on the show, and I can’t help but think it has something to do with having two legendary actors in the roles.

The other family in question comes into play after Ramon’s initial episode gets him referred to a psychiatrist, Farid (played by Peter Macdissi). Farid is not-so-practicing Muslim, and his wife, Minou (Necar Zadegan) is definitely practicing. Farid also has a gender-fluid son who promises to not wear his makeup and hijab outside the home for safety concerns.

While not offering the rainbow spectrum that the intial family does, the conflict within this unit feels more genuine and is tightly stitched as something believable. Both patriarchs of the families are suffering a crisis of ideals and identity, manifesting similarly to a person, but very differently because of who they are in the same society.

That is interesting to me. Unfortunately, there is never any question that Greg and Audrey’s family primarily run the plot. None of the characters are all that likable (which is the only reason the on fire drama of Six Feet Under worked as well as it did), and every learning moment for them feels like a comeuppance more than a moral turning.

Here and Now isn’t a bad show by any means. It is a touch weird with hints of the supernatural that you would expect from Ball. The acting ranges from very good in most scenes to excellent in others. But this is a show that doesn’t believe in subtlety (which to be fair, reflects the Trumptonian era the show lives in). The plot is also a little too scattered in the less interesting moments, but there is definite potential to see if the show begins to narrow the focus as it continues because all the pieces are there.

Here and Now premieres on HBO on Sunday, February 11th at 10pm EST.

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